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[ Updated 19 mai 2003 ]
The New Zealand Wars
The fall of Kororareka - "The Flagstaff War"
Chopping down the flagstaff at Kororareka

Hone Heke Pokai, chief of the Ngapuhi tribe in the north, had been one of the Chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. He felt that the alternatives to British rule would be either the French or the continuing growth of brothels and rum sellers. The Māori referred to the French as "the tribe of Marion", after the massacre of many Māori by the French following the murder of the explorer Marion du Fresne,

Image : McCormick, Arthur David, 1860-1943. Heke fells the flagstaff at Kororareka. (Page 109). [1908] Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

However, Hone Heke soon became disenchanted by what he felt to be not only Government oppression toward Māori, but also the many economic losses for the town when the Government decided to transfer the capital from Kororareka to Auckland.

It was on 8th July 1844, nearly five years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi that the first hostile action took place in the far north in the fifth largest town in the colony of New Zealand, Kororareka. The British flag was raised ceremoniously each morning on a flagstaff at Kororareka, and one night Te Haratua, second in command to Hone Heke, chopped the flagstaff down in protest.

The British re-erected the flagstaff, but it was chopped down again on three further occasions - the second time on 10th January 1845, a third time on 19th January 1845, and then for a fourth and final time on 11th March 1845. In February 1845, after re-erecting the flagstaff for the third time, the British decided to establish a regiment in Kororareka, with one section stationed at the flagpost. A detachment of the 96th regiment, including the sloop "Hazard" were in place, providing a combined force of 140 soldiers, sailors and marines based in Kororareka.

On the morning of March 11th 1845, Hone Heke joined forces with another chief, Te Ruki Kawiti, to unite in an attack. The Māori were well equipped with muskets by this time, and the settlers in the far North were the first to experience Māori anger. As Kawiti and his men created a diversion for the British, Hone Heke succeeded in chopping the flagstaff down yet again, for the fourth time. This first attack at Kororareka provoked what became known as "The Flagstaff War".

In spite of preceding events, the British were taken completely by surprise, finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of being outnumbered. During the fierce fighting which followed, the inhabitants of Kororareka were evacuated to the ships anchored in the bay, where they were transferred to Auckland the following day.

Fighting continued all morning, when suddenly the British garrison's reserve ammunition exploded, setting fire to the surrounding buildings. The British were now forced to retreat to their ships, as not only was their ammunition gone, but the Māori were still firmly holding their positions.

Once the inhabitants of Kororareka had all been evacuated, Lieutenant Philpotts, from the sloop "Hazard", ordered the bombardment of Kororareka. The town was subsequently sacked by both British and Māori, both those for and those against the government. Hone Heke himself gave orders that the southern area of the town remain untouched. As a result, both the Anglican and Catholic churches were spared from destruction.

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When the fighting died down, the first appointed Bishop of New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn (Anglican) and another clergyman, Henry Williams, ventured ashore to meet with Hone Heke and Te Kawiti, in an effort to calm the situation. In his youth, Hone Heke had spent some time at the Kerikeri Church Missionary Society mission school, and he retained great respect for the christian missionaries. Bishop Selwyn and Henry Williams were warmly received by both Hone Heke and Te Kawiti.

After the sacking of Kororareka, Hone Heke returned to his pa "Te Ahuahu", also known as Pukenui, situated near Lake Omapere. Realizing that he would now be tracked by the Government, Heke commenced construction of a new fortified pa, that of Puketutu (puke = hill, tutu = native tree), but frequent skirmishes with a neighbouring pro-government tribe led to a delay in the completion of Puketutu pa. One side remained incomplete.

The settlers in Auckland heard the news of the sacking of Kororareka some days later. Panic set in as Kororareka was the fifth largest town in New Zealand. Many settlers sold their land for whatever price they could obtain, and left the country as quickly as possible. Auckland was placed in a state of defence, while awaiting the arrival of reinforcement troops from Australia. On the 22nd April, 215 reinforcement soldiers from the 58th regiment arrived. They set sail for Kororareka, and from there began a fifteen mile march by foot through inhospitable terrain and in appalling meteorological conditions to Puketutu pa. The troops took four days to arrive.

On 8th May 1845 the British troops, led by Colonel William Hulme, commenced an attack on the uncompleted and vulnerable side of Puketutu pa. However, Heke and Te Kawiti had an equally well prepared plan. As a group of soldiers were advancing, Kawiti and his warriors suddenly appeared out of the bush, attacking the British from the rear. The British attacking party were forced to withdraw, after losing a quarter of its men. In addition to this, the heavily fortified pa was easily able to withstand musket fire, and without artillery backup Colonel Hulme had no choice but to retreat.

After Puketutu, Hone Heke returned to his pa of Te Ahauhu (Te = the, Ahauhu = mounds on which kumara grow). However, on a day when Heke was absent a pro-government chief, Te Taonui, along with Waka Nene, seized Heke's pa of Te Ahauhu. Heke, trying to retake his pa was defeated, and wounded.

Main source of research :
"To Face the Daring Māoris" Michael Barthorp (Hodder and Stoughton)

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 The New Zealand Wars - Official site


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